Saddiq Bey has had an up and down (mostly down) year for the Pistons. What does this mean for his future in Detroit? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
It’s been a season of largely un-met expectations for the Detroit Pistons. At 6-19, the Pistons have suffered from injury problems (their opening night starters along with Alec Burks and Marvin Bagley have missed a combined 54 games so far), atrocious defense (Detroit’s defensive rating of 117.9 points allowed per 100 possessions is second worst in the league) and a wildly inconsistent offense. While there are a multitude of reasons for the Pistons struggles, perhaps no player has been more indicative of the early disappointment than Saddiq Bey. While his three point shooting regressed from 38% in his rookie season to a far less impressive 34.5% in his second year, the strides he took as a playmaker, slasher and overall scorer seemed to show more and more as the season progressed, culminating in a 51 point explosion against the Orlando Magic in March of his sophomore season. Many fans reasoned that if he could combine those skills with the shooting form of his rookie year, Bey could easily take a leap alongside the rest of the roster, potentially propelling the young Pistons to a play-in berth.
Things haven’t quite worked out that way. While the offseason acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic was supposed to open up more space for Bey to operate as a shooter, the opposite has been true so far, with Bey taking a career low 5.3 threes per game on abysmal 26% shooting from beyond the arc. It’s not just that he isn’t making shots, a career low 33% of his attempts coming on catch and shoot threes is perhaps even more indicative of how Bey’s role in the offense has changed. Last season, Bey attempted 3 or fewer threes in just 4 of his 82 games played. He’s attempted 3 or fewer threes in 5 of his 21 games this year. Neither the volume nor the efficiency for Bey has been up to the standards he set his first two seasons in the league.
A big part of that is where those shots are coming from. Only nine players took more corner threes than Bey did last season, and he shot an extremely respectable 39% from the corners, as opposed to his far less impressive 33% mark on above the break threes. This year, Bey ranks 38th in corner threes attempted, he’s even behind two of his own teammates in Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers. That being said, he still is converting 39% of those attempts. The real issue comes on his threes from anywhere else, where he’s shooting an abysmal 22%, nearly half of the 38% he shot his rookie year. Simply put, while Bey can still be effective as a corner three shooter, his 32% mark on above the break threes over his last 515 attempts paints him as an ineffective threat from anywhere else.
While Saddiq’s outside game has seemingly cratered, his interior scoring has taking a sizeable step forward. Bey has always had excellent strength and footwork, but while his ability to get to the rim was apparent from his first few games as a pro, his finishing once he got there was noticeably lacking. That hasn’t been the case this year, as Bey is finishing 57% of his shots at the rim, up from 53% last season and a marked improvement from the 49% mark he put up as a rookie. While that’s still a slightly below average mark compared to the overall league average, Bey’s ability to absorb contact and go to the line has been a saving grace for his offense. His adjusted free throw rate of 146, according to BasketballReference, means that he gets to the free throw line nearly 50% better than the average NBA player, and as an 88% free throw shooter Bey converts those opportunities far more often than he misses them.
While the two-point shooting has been a welcome improvement, Saddiq’s lack of an outside shot this year has put Dwane Casey into a difficult position. The Pistons starting lineup contains multiple high-useage players in Jaden Ivey, Cade Cunningham and Bojan Bogdanovic, all of whom have a useage over 24% on the season. With Bey no longer reliable from beyond the break, taking a far lower percentage of catch and shoot threes than ever before, and expanding his interior scoring, he no longer fits what the starting lineup requires of him. In turn the other current starters do little to compliment his skillset at the moment. While Bey excels on corner threes, Bojan Bogdanovic is even better at them, making Bey’s skills in that department somewhat redundant. Even if his shooting percentages improve, his three point volume probably won’t, meaning the answer to the Pistons Saddiq Bey problem extends beyond just his efficiency, it basically encompasses his entire playing style at the moment. This is also reflected in his dwindling assist numbers which are down from 2.8 per game last year to 1.7 per game this year. Not only is he creating more shots for himself exclusively with the ball in his hands, he’s also creating less shots for others during those possessions.
Bey’s issues extend beyond his offense though. His footspeed on defense is mediocre, meaning quicker players often are able to slip by him, and while his off-ball positioning is fine, he offers very little in terms of forcing turnovers (career 1.3% steal rate) and even less in terms of weakside rim protection. That wasn’t nearly as big an issue during his first two seasons, when he had Jerami Grant’s borderline elite help defense next to him in the frontcourt, but pairing him with Bogdanovic has not only hurt his offense, but also exposes the Pistons lack of size and rebounding up front. Detroit’s defensive rebounding rate with Bey on the court this year is 68.5%, which would rank as the 3rd worst mark of any team in the league. With him off the floor, it’s 71.2%, tying them for 20th. Not amazing, but an improvement to be sure. That lack of beef on the defensive glass has played a huge part in Detroit allowing 15.7 second chance points per game to their opposition, 4th worst in the NBA.
So what does Detroit do? Well, the Pistons have a couple of options at their disposal to deal with the issues created by Bey’s changing skills and role on this year’s team. First, they can simply try to wait out his struggles. While Saddiq’s three point shooting has been bad, this isn’t the first time he’s struggled to open a season. He shot only 29.6% from three through his first 26 games of last season before shooting 36% the rest of the way, and since he’s always been a streaky shooter, it’s certainly possible he heats up in the next few weeks. That doesn’t address the defensive issues created by the pairing of him and Bogdanovic though, or fully take advantage of Bey’s rapidly improving interior scoring prowess. Cade Cunningham’s injury has hid the reality a bit, but there simply aren’t enough possessions available in a healthy Pistons starting lineup for Bey to create his own drives to the rim 6 or so times per game.
Head coach Dwane Casey has recently begun to utilize the second option available to Detroit, which is to simply avoid the issues of a Bogdanovic/Bey pairing by bringing Bey off of the bench. It’s difficult to read into the early returns, since Bey has only done so for four games thus far, but in theory it should help both units. By switching Bey with Marvin Bagley in the starting lineup, the Pistons rebounding problem actually becomes one other their greatest strengths. In 80 minutes played together (small sample size alert!), Bagley and Isaiah Stewart have an offensive rebounding rate of 30.7% (6th best in the NBA) and defensive rebounding rate of 77.3% (best in the league by a wide margin). Perhaps even more importantly, with Bagley on the floor next to Bogdanovic and Stewart, the Pistons team true shooting percentage shoots from 55.4% (exactly league average) to 58.8%, the seventh best of any team in the NBA.
Additionally, this opens up more opportunities for Bey to impose his physical play on bench units, have the ball in his hands without stagnating the rest of the offense, and partially hide his defensive deficiencies. When played next to a future All-Universe rebounder in Jalen Duren, Detroit is also able to slightly mitigate his lack of rebounding. For now, this appears to be the best path forward for Bey. Even if he does rediscover his shooting touch, it seems a waste to not take advantage of his interior game, and putting him alongside another scorer in Alec Burks who draws a multitude of shooting fouls has the feel of a potent pairing. A second unit featuring Burks as an outside scorer, Bey as a physical driver, and Killian Hayes as the defensive and passing-minded point guard could be absolute hell for opposing bench units to deal with. Staggering Bey and Bogdanovic’s minutes also has the potential to open up more catch-and-shoot corner three opportunities for both players, looks they have historically excelled at. Being the second offensive option off the bench rather than the fourth option in the starting lineup also gives Bey more chances to show off some of the gains he made as a playmaker last season. While he’s only played four games as a reserve, it seems notable that the 23.9% useage and 3 assists per game his averaged in those four games would both represent his career highs.
The third option available to Detroit is to simply cut bait on Bey and try to trade him while he’s still young, cheap, and is perceived to have untapped upside. This is a bit more difficult to figure out, as Bey’s trade value is likely at its lowest point in his career thus far. Still, he’s been incredibly productive since entering the league (only Damian Lillard made more three pointers in his first two seasons than Bey) and is on his rookie contract for another season before becoming a restricted free agent. It’s easy to imagine a rival GM talking themselves into Bey, if you can fix his three point shot and maintain his interior scoring, you’ve got an incredibly potent scorer who can hurt teams both inside and out, a highly appealing skillset that has served players like Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris extremely well.
The potential trade that seems to make the sense for both sides would be the Pistons sending both Bey and Bogdanovic to the Atlanta Hawks for power forward John Collins. Not only is the springy Collins a pick and roll nightmare for opposing teams, he’s also a career 36% shooter from deep and is under contract until at least 2025. Pairing a solid rebounder, shot blocker and pick and roll/pick and pop threat like Collins with Detroit’s young guards in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey seems like a perfect fit for the future, regardless of where the Pistons might land in this upcoming draft. For a team like Atlanta which is currently last in the NBA in three pointers made and 27th in three point percentage, a knockdown volume shooter like Bogdanovic could breath new life into their offense, and the presence of big men Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu might be able to offset the loss of Collins on the boards. The chance to play in a new system, with elite creators in Dejounte Murray and Trae Young might be what Bey needs to rediscover his shot as well, and his contract gives Atlanta time and options to figure out their best path forward.
Ultimately, what Detroit is currently doing with Bey appears to be their best bet at the moment. Bringing him off the bench, where he gets more opportunities to bully his way to the rim on physical drives, be the primary shooting threat on drive-and-kick looks in the corner and limit his defensive exposure, is worth an extended look for Detroit as they try to figure out exactly where he fits into the long-term picture. It’s unlikely that they’ll actively shop him at this point, they still have him under his rookie contract through next season and he’s shown enough flashes through the first two years of his career for them to see if he can rediscover some of his form. Still, GM Troy Weaver has repeatedly stated he’ll always do his due diligence on potential trade offers, and if the price is right, there’s no question he’ll pull the trigger on a trade for Bey. If that doesn’t happen however, Detroit has a tall task ahead of them in figuring out exactly what to do with their young, talented, frustratingly flawed forward.
(Featured Image: Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)